“There was a time when I had all the answers. My real growth began when I discovered that the questions to which I had the answers were not the important questions” (Reinhold Niebuhr).
IN THIS LIFE, WE’RE ON A JOURNEY: AN ODYSSEY ON WHICH WE LEARN, LITTLE BY LITTLE, WHAT THE IMPORTANT THINGS ARE. The further we go, the more obvious it becomes that at the beginning we had no clear idea concerning life’s real priorities. We were full of answers, but as it turns out, we had not even discovered what the main questions were. It begins to dawn on us that “importance” is a thing much easier understood at journey’s end than at its beginning.
If we wish to see what’s truly important, the main requirement is to overcome our sense of self-importance. Each of us is important, certainly. But our self-centered concerns are nowhere near the most important thing in life. As R. M. Baumgardy said, “Man must realize his own unimportance before he can appreciate his importance.”
T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important . . . They do not mean to do harm . . . They are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” Too often, we are like Ed Koch who in a famous conversation said, “But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” As long as we are stuck in this mode of thought, we will never appreciate the things that matter most.
But even when we rise above self-importance, we still have the challenge of multiple priorities. Not all of the things that we have to deal with are equally important, but many of them are important to some degree, and it takes wisdom, courage, and no small amount of discipline to separate the less important from the more important.
And finally, all of us need to have something that is of ultimate importance. In other words, we need to cherish some value that is such a surpassing treasure that we would, if necessary, sacrifice everything else for that one value. When we possess such a value, we can arrange all the lesser values in their proper order, and we’re motivated to give our first and finest effort to that which is at the top of the list.
“The most important thing in life is to live your life for something more important than your life” (William James).